Carlos Villanueva proving valuable to first-place Cardinals


After spending the past few seasons as a member of the struggling Chicago Cubs, right-hander Carlos Villanueva is blossoming as a piece of the St. Louis Cardinals’ bullpen – which has been one of the biggest success stories for a team that leads all of Major League Baseball in wins.

At age 31, Villanueva has all of 3 2/3 innings of postseason experience under his belt, a testament to the struggling ball clubs he’s played on for most of his big league career. This season, the veteran – who has spent time with three-fifths of the NL Central so far – has been lights-out for manager Mike Matheny.

In eight appearances, the Cardinals reliever has allowed a lone run in 13 2/3 innings of work, finishing five games in the process. What that equates to is an outstanding 0.66 ERA and 0.732 WHIP – marks that are never going to be maintained, but are still impressive, nonetheless.

With three wins already under his belt this season, Villanueva is already nearing the five victories he picked up last season as a member of a young Chicago Cubs team – although he was used both in relief and as a spot-starter, making five starts for former skipper Rick Renteria over the course of the 2014 season.

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A career 48-51 pitcher, he has never won 10 games in a season. His earned run average in 398 big league games is nothing too spectacular at 4.21. That being said, 2015 is really the first full season in which Villanueva has been used exclusively as a relief pitcher. Throughout his career, he has always been a spot-starter, which has likely contributed to his slightly-inflated numbers.

With Adam Wainwright out for the year and injuries to pitchers like Jaime Garcia, the St. Louis staff, barring a trade, is not as rock-solid as the front office would like. However, as his splits indicate, Villanueva might not be the best answer for a staff with some holes moving forward.

As a starting pitcher, the Dominican-born Villanueva has not been nearly as effective as he has out of the pen. Here’s a breakdown of his numbers – both as a starting pitcher and as a reliever.

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As demonstrated here, even in a larger sample size, the right-hander has been endlessly more effective out of the bullpen than when he takes the ball as a starter.

While it may be tempting to see Carlos Villanueva fill a hole in the starting rotation, if the Cardinals want to see his recent run of success be more than a flash-in-the-pan, it’s best he stays put right where he is.

Next: ICYMI: 10 reasons behind the Cardinals' hot start